New commissioned series on ethics launches today

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Monday, 16 May 2016

The May issue of International Health sees the launch of our Ethics Series, Guest Edited by Editorial Board Member Michael Parker,  Professor of Bioethics and Director of the Ethox Centre at the University of Oxford. Over the next few months we will be publishing a range of commissioned papers on ethical issues in global health.   

There is increasing recognition of the important role of identifying and addressing ethical issues in successful science. New and emerging forms of research are leading to parallel emergence of new ethical issues such as ethics in large collaborative research networks, data-sharing, diversity of institutions and values. The good news is that there is an increasing degree of explicit acknowledgement in much research ethics guidance of the importance of ethical ‘principles’. Although there is variation, the most commonly acknowledged are respect for autonomy, duties of care, minimising harms and promotion of benefits. However, there is a multiplicity of guidelines and areas of ambiguity and conflict, and there is significant need for capacity building, resources and training of ethics committees if guidelines are to be given effect. Even in areas where there is guidance and broad consensus, care is needed to interpret how guidance should be implemented in practice. The bottom line is that researchers and institutions need to develop the skills needed to maintain high ethical standards in a complex practical and guidance landscape.

Our Ethics Series starts with a commentary and an original research article on the ethics of research with children. Kelley et al carried out a qualitative study to better understand the ethical challenges facing researchers who work with orphans and vulnerable children. Findings suggest that we must improve support and rethink the roles of guardians, researchers and older children in research participation and protection.

In their commentary, Devries et al discuss the need for a universal standard when collecting data on violence against children and young people. Preventing and responding to violence against children is an aim of the new Sustainable Development Goals and numerous agencies are now collecting data from children about violence.  Data is necessary to ensure appropriate prevention and response, but there is a real risk of harm to children if ethical standards are not adhered to. Devries et al propose specific suggestions for good practice, based on their own past experience and policies.

The third paper in this issue is an original research paper assessing whether research participants in low income settings fully understand the issues of genetic research. Davey et al used a rapid ethical assessment methodology to explore perceptions surrounding the meaning of research, genetics and genetic research in north west Cameroon. They demonstrated a variable level of understanding of research, genetics and genetic research and highlight the utility of rapid ethical assessment prior to complex or sensitive research.

This International Health Ethics Series will run throughout 2016 accumulating in a freely available web collection at the end of the year. Future topics will include the ethics of mass drug administration, ethics and HIV self-testing, ethical issues surrounding the Ebola crises, the ethical challenges of using new technology in humanitarian settings, and data sharing.

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